July 2012 Archives

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, half-length portrai...

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, half-length portrait, standing, facing front (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1915 the modern Olympic Games were just nineteen years old, but in that short time, the Games transcended the world’s expectations, becoming the crowning international symbol of sport and goodwill.  Still, Pierre de Coubertin, the Game’s fifty-two-year old founding father, envisioned something more.  In a letter to a friend that year, Coubertin wrote, “I have not been able to carry out to the end what I wanted to perfect. I believe that a centre of Olympic studies would aid the preservation and progress of my work more than anything else.”


In the later years of his life, Coubertin would go on to lay the framework for the institution he envisioned.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Olympic Study Centre in Geneva Switzerland was the culmination of that work.  It has subsequently gone on to include one of the world’s finest research libraries dedicated to sport.


The modern Olympic Games have always been linked to print in the form of posters, pamphlets, and official game reports.  When asked what they considered to be their finest work on paper, the IOC library says their complete collection of Game reports, especially from early 1896 to 1936, is among their most treasured possessions.  Although the library has a prodigious amount of material about the modern Olympic Games, it also boasts a collection of antiquarian texts such as Girolamo Mercuriale’s famous 1577 work on diet and exercise, De Arte Gymnastica.



Currently, the IOC Olympic Studies Centre Library is undergoing renovations to ensure the long term care of its collections. While that is underway, a digitalization project is being undertaken to provide exactly what Coubertin wanted--the preservation and progress of the Olympic Games.  

If you search the usual online book-hunting websites for “Les Secrets D’une Nage Evolutive” (or “The Secrets of Swimming Development” in English) you won’t find a single available copy.  Head over to OCLC and you’ll still come up empty-handed.  The elusive swimming manual is a slippery fish.

And yet somehow a copy of that book found its way to Rwanda, the small country in central Africa shattered by a genocide in 1994.

The book ended up in the hands of a high-school teacher in an undeveloped town on the shore of Lake Kivu, who saw a promising young swimmer gliding through the placid lake.

kivu1.jpgThe teacher passed the book on to him.

Now that swimmer, Jackson Niyomugabo, is representing Rwanda at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Niyomugabo revealed in an interview with the AP that he taught himself how to swim competitively by poring over the illustrations in “Les Secrets D’une Nage Evolutive.”  Since Niyomugabo can not read French (or English), the illustrations were all the instruction he had to go by.  He would then compare the illustrations with the competitive swimmers he could sometimes watch on the television in the lobby of a local hotel.  Niyomugabo practiced the moves in Lake Kivu whenever he had the opportunity.  And now he is one of the four Rwandans competing in the Summer Games in London.

Niyomugabo’s goal is to earn a medal in his event - the 50m freestyle, one of the fastest swimming events held at the Olympics.  He doesn’t have much of a chance in that regard - in fact, it would be an incredible feat if he even makes it to the finals.  But for a swimmer without any support - no coach, no training facility, no Olympic-size pools - just getting to the Olympics is an amazing accomplishment.

And it’s owed to the circuitous route of survival traveled by a particularly scarce book.

Readers may recall our spring column on Kim Rhode, a 33-year-old Olympian with a penchant for children’s books. The California native won a gold medal in skeet shooting at the London Olympics this past weekend, becoming the first US athlete to medal in five consecutive Olympic games.

Her passion for sport is akin to her passion for books. She told us, “I’ll definitely continue collecting until the day I die. I think books are becoming obsolete, so I see what I’m doing as preserving history, the heritage of parents reading to their kids. I don’t see myself ever getting bored. Collecting is something that’s constantly changing. I’m always updating and growing and getting better.”

We wonder if Rhode has had a chance to go hunting for her ‘holy grail,’ a first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in dust jacket, while she’s been in London.
lf.jpgHeritage Auctions snagged a world record for comic art at a Beverly Hills auction last night. Todd McFarlane’s 1990 Spider-Man #328 original cover art brought in $657,250 at the vintage comics & comic art sale, beating McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1--thought to be the auction’s frontrunner--by nearly double.

The signed illustration shows Spider-man sparring with the Hulk. It was formerly part of the Shamus Modern Masterworks Collection. Martin Shamus owned a popular comics shop and had the opportunity to obtain many pieces of original comic book art directly from the artists soon after publication in the late eighties and early nineties.

Where do you go to buy books when your country bans them?
If you’re Chinese, you go to Hong Kong:

hongkong.jpgCNN reported yesterday on an interesting bookselling phenomena: since travel restrictions were lifted in 2003, Chinese readers interested in acquiring books banned by their government head to Hong Kong, where the books can be legally sold.  And in a city where Chinese tourism is booming, this has led to substantial new business opportunities for booksellers.  (Approximately 28.1 million Chinese people visited Hong Kong last year, a figure that doubled over the previous five years).
Indeed, some bookstores are making a significant portion of their profits from this trade.  The People’s Commune, a bookshop in Hong Kong, reported that a whopping 95% of its customers come from mainland China seeking books on such heavily censored topics as the Tiananmen Square protests and the ongoing Bo Xilai scandal.
Book purchasers run the risk of having their books confiscated by customs officials when they return to China.  But it’s a risk many are willing to take.  One such customer was quoted by CNN, “As long as it doesn’t hurt the fundamental well being of its people, I don’t see a reason for the country to ban the information.  After all, we want the country to be better and our lives to be improved.”
All of this must make for some fascinating book collections in China, involving secretive acquisitions, book smuggling, and repeated avoidance of governmental officials.  Those are some collections I’d like to see.
Once in a while someone asks a fellow bibliophile (or group of bibliophiles) for a list of novels about books and collecting, and that person is then bombarded with a list. Poet’s Pub, a British novel originally published in 1935, is one that I don’t recall ever coming up in such conversations, so when I read about its recent re-publication by Penguin Classics, I was excited to dive in.

PoetsPub Reprint.jpgPoet’s Pub is the charming story of the Pelican Pub in Downish, England, run by middling poet Saturday Keith. His guests are an interesting group of English and American travelers: a professor and his daughter, a retired colonel and his wife, a businessman, and a “harmless” book collector who turns out to have a sinister side (“a folio-sized wolf in calf’s clothing”). The author provides comic relief at the expense of bibliophiles (but I laughed anyway), particularly in this passage:

Wesson sat a little distance away, still behind his enormous folio. Wesson had talked old books to Sir Philip Betts, who hated reading; to Jean Forbes, who disliked Wesson; to Sigismund Telfer, who believed only in new books; to Jacquetta Telfer, who preferred maps; to Colonel Waterhouse, who wasn’t interested; and to Lady Porlet, who thought it a sin and a shame to pay hundreds of pounds for dusty volumes that nobody read...

The novel evolves into a caper that might well be described as a wittier, less deadly Gosford Park.

PoetsPub.jpgThe new edition features a foreword by librarian and author Nancy Pearl, who felt compelled to revive Eric Linklater’s novel for modern readers. Pearl deserves many thanks for that. For years Poet’s Pub was out of print, even though it was one of the first ten titles used by Allen Lane to successfully launch the Penguin Books line in 1935. Linklater was shelved alongside an eclectic group, including Andre Maurois, Ernest Hemingway, Susan Ertz, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Beverly Nichols, E.H. Young, Mary Webb, and Compton Mackenzie.
Katherinemansfield.jpgA lost short story by the New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield was uncovered in an archive at Kings College, London.  The story, “A Little Episode,” deals with an affair between a socialite and a musician. It was discovered by a graduate student along with several previously unknown children’s stories and a collection of aphorisms.

The graduate student, Chris Mourant, found the material while trawling through the archives of the literary magazine ADAM held by Kings College, London.  Mourant revealed the find to Dr. Gerri Kimber, a Mansfield expert, who will be publishing the first complete collection of the author’s writings later this year. Kimber was astounded by the find, describing it in an interview with the Guardian as “hugely exciting.”

Kimber believes the Mansfield story sheds light on a difficult phase in the author’s life.  Like the protagonist in “A Little Episode,” Mansfield fell in love with a musician.  He abandoned her when he found out that she was pregnant.  Mansfield then married a music teacher, only to leave him the same day and attempt to return to the musician, who refused to take Mansfield back. The sad little affair was elevated to tragedy when Mansfield’s baby was stillborn.

“A Little Episode,” along with the three children’s stories, will be included in the upcoming “Collected Fiction of Katherina Mansfield,” edited by Kimber, which will be released this fall from Edinburgh University Press.

Mansfield (1888 - 1923) is primarily remembered for her stories “The Garden Party,” “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” and “The Fly.” She was born and raised in New Zealand, but came to Great Britain at age 19, where she befriended other Modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf.  Mansfield died prematurely at 34, a victim of tuberculosis.

It can be cliche to call someone a Renaissance Man, but in the case of antiquarian bookseller Ed Nudelman, it is apt. Book collectors and dealers will recognize the name Nudelman Rare Books, an ABAA antiquarian shop since 1983 that specializes in English and American literature, especially the Pre-Raphaelite period. But what you may not know is that Ed Nudelman is a recently retired cancer research scientist, who wrote more than sixty research papers. He is also a published bibliographer and a poet. That kind of productivity, in two (or three) such distinct fields at the same time, is hard for many of us to imagine. So I thought I’d pick his brain about it.

RRB: You started your career as a cancer research scientist. How long were you doing that before you began thinking about books? How long were you a collector before you became a dealer?

6_EDN.jpgEd Nudelman in his home office.

EN: I received my degree in biochemistry from the University of Washington in 1976 and immediately began my first formal appointment at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The Institute is well known for having pioneered bone marrow transplant intervention for some of the then fatal leukemic cancers. I immediately became interested in cancer research and have been working as a scientist in various laboratories and biotech companies ever since.  

It was in the summer of 1979 that I bought my first rare book, an illustrated edition of one of the Scribner’s Classics, by Robert Louis Stevenson entitled A Child’s Garden of Verses. This was during a foray into an antique shop with my soon-to-be wife, Susan, and the model of her going toward the antique pottery and armoires and me going toward the dusty stacks of old books was set into place. But it wasn’t until I noticed that the book was illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith that I became infatuated with that illustrator and more or less obsessed with trying to find all of her books. This eventually occurred, and it was said by many that I was personally responsible for inflating the price of Smith’s first editions in the 1980s. I later sold the entire collection along with original paintings to the Chicago Public Library, but before that occurred, Pelican published my first book, Jessie Willcox Smith, A Bibliography, which has turned out to be the definitive bibliography on her illustrations in books, posters, calendars, magazines, etc.

I was a collector for probably two years before I became a dealer. However, like many of my colleagues, I managed to keep a small collection fairly intact for many years, only selling duplicate copies. At that time I was interested in late nineteenth-century American Illustrators, fine bindings, 1890s, and the Arts and Crafts Movement, and my collecting interests continued to evolve around chiefly the Pre-Raphaelite movement and the 1890s.

RRB: How did you juggle a career in science with a career in bookselling?

EN: It never seemed like juggling to me. I think many scientists become interested in the arts, or at least obtain an appreciation for things appealing to their less ‘exercised’ right side of the brain. For me, after coming home from a difficult day in the lab mixing chemicals, incubating solutions, and in general becoming more and more frustrated analyzing data, there was something unusually rewarding about finding a package and knowing inside it lurked something beautiful (and mysterious): a rare book I’d never seen or held before.  

5_EDN.jpgA selection of Nudelman’s books.

RRB: Your focus as a collector and a dealer is Pre-Raphaelites, the 1890s, and writers of the Arts/Crafts period. To me, an obvious question is, why not medical books?

EN: They did interest me for a while early on, but not passionately; medical books never appealed to me from an aesthetic point of view. And I think I was looking for respite from the rigorous, linear aspects of my career in the science world. So, as alluded to above, my passion for the aesthetic quality of books as objects, fine bindings, wood-engraved illustrations from the 1850s, hand-colored plates... these kinds of things appealed to me early on and continue to fuel my interest and drive. But in our bookshop, we have branched into many other areas such as Natural History, Important Literature, Fine Bindings, and Jugendstil Children’s Books.

RRB: How did poetry enter the picture?

EN: Seven years ago my wife and I relocated to New England (just north of Boston) to pursue a biotech business venture. We had been native Seattleites all our lives, and kept our house in Seattle thinking this would be a two-year adventure. I kept my book business going during this time, but didn’t show at the California ABAA fairs as I had the previous two decades. One result of the move was that I found I had a little more free time to pursue non-vocational interests. I joined an online writing group and started producing a lot of prose, short-stories and the like. One day I posted a poem I had written in high school and it got more attention than any of my stories. That gave me the impetus to explore writing poetry, publishing in journals, and eventually having two poetry books published (third in manuscript).

RRB: So you’ve been a scientist, a bookseller, a bibliographer, and a poet. Anything else? Which has been most rewarding?

EN: Well, I play a lot of guitar, instrumental open tunings like John Fahey and Leo Kotke. I like to hang out with our family, which we have in spades. Our three kids have already produced 6 grandkids, and all are under the age of 5! We have a large house and half an acre in North Seattle and everyone convenes here daily, which we love. Having our book business in our home gives me the flexibility now to work in a dedicated fashion, but not one confined by deadlines and time constraints. I love sitting in my office and peering out over our Provencal garden, inhaling the roses and lavender and, believe it or not, working hard at trying to sell rare books!

8_EDN.jpgNudelman’s Provencal garden.

RRB: What direction are you taking as an antiquarian bookseller these days? What’s your prognosis for book collecting in the 21st century?

EN: We have been expanding our business, buying larger collections, paying more attention to auctions and rare book fairs. We have a growing online presence, including a fully active shopping cart website with multiple photos of every book in our stock.

I’m very optimistic about the future for the rare book business. Commodities of historical and authentic artistic and literary merit will always be in demand. Buying and selling rare books in today’s internet climate puts a premium on research and placing valuation as true to what the market will accept as one possibly can. Buying is a function of what your clients are looking for, and how you can best provide what is needed in a competitive way. In my view, the internet hasn’t leveled the playing field, as some have said, but rather provided more reliable and reproducible metrics on which to base buying and selling. This is the kind of landscape I thrive best in. Therefore, much of my time is spent querying my clientele and researching availability, analyzing all aspects of bibliography, condition, and the uniqueness of an item. I hope this pays off in the long run.

Catalogue Review: Voyager Press

Screen shot 2012-07-19 at 8.34.19 PM.pngI have had the pleasure of talking with Voyager’s president, Bernhard Lauser, at book fairs in California and New York. So when his new catalogue of manuscript Americana landed in my inbox (in PDF), I was glad to take a look. Lauser, a Vancouver-based bookseller, specializes in travel and exploration, and this catalogue manifests that with unique whaling, trading, and sailing items.

An 1860-1890 archive of mining deeds, gold bullion receipts, and camp photographs from Idaho is a compelling collection ($5,750). Another nugget (pun intended) is a set of two letters and an 50-page manuscript inquest related to an American consul’s death on his way to the Klondike Gold Fields in 1898 ($2,250).

I have always been taken by nineteenth-century herbaria/scrapbooks. Here we have one that belonged to Julia T. Buck, an Englishwoman who traveled far and wide collecting plant specimens between 1890-1893 ($975). On a related note, famous naturalist Louis Agassiz appears in a signed carte-de-visite from 1860 accompanied by a letter dated 1921 describing its provenance ($975).

The topic of war is explored through two Revolutionary War journals ($9,750), a rare New Jersey Gazette from August 1778 ($1,750), and an American Civil War “passport” signed by William H. Seward ($575). A 45-page manuscript account of the Austrian military campaign in Mexico in 1867 is a surprising find ($7,500).

Fellow travelers can visit Voyager here and request a catalogue.

Our series profiling the next generation of antiquarian booksellers continues today with Katharina Koch, daughter of Joachim Koch, the proprietor of Books Tell You Why in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina:

BYT Interview Picture.jpgNP: As your father is Joachim Koch, you must’ve grown up around rare books.  Did you develop an interest in them early in life? Or did it come to you later?

KK: While I always read books as a child and my bookshelf was always full, I would say that my interest in collecting rare books came later.  Then came Christmas 2002: In my stocking I found a scroll of papers packaged in a tube that tennis balls would usually come in. This package contained the beginnings of Books Tell You Why, which was at that point the smallest bookstore in the world.  Little did I know that this Christmas present, a bookstore, would change the rest of our lives.

NP: What is your role at Books Tell You Why?

KK: I coordinate all of the marketing efforts at Books Tell You Why (although, sometimes they coordinate me). This includes designing and updating print advertisements, helping with newsletters, supporting social media activities on Google Plus, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as organizing six book fairs we currently attend each year. 

NP: What do you love about the book trade?

KK: What I love most about the book trade is that there is so much to discover.  Whether traveling to book fairs and seeing new places, or cataloguing a pile of books, I am always learning something new and I am constantly exposed to interesting literature.  Oh, and interesting people.  There are so many great people in the trade; I have seen exciting collections, and the people who built these are fascinating.

Favorite or most interesting book that you’ve handled?

KK: After being introduced to Walt Whitman in my AP Language & Composition/American Literature class, I became truly interested in Walt Whitman, his life, and his career. After learning about how Whitman was inspired by human interactions and the magnificence of nature, my classmates and I deeply considered his work and created written analyses on his life. We explored how Leaves of Grass is designed to show the world sensations of humanity through poetry. To write our analyses, we received a packet of documents to reference in our paper, and the first document was a print-out of an Abebooks search showing first editions of Leaves of Grass. I recognized some of the booksellers on the print-out and knowing that I would soon be going to the ABAA California Book Fair, anticipated that a particular bookseller would bring his copy. It was amazing to see a first edition of this book, published in 1854, in an original print run of only 795 copies, being kept in such good condition. With the class experience, I was able to much better understand and see first-hand the cultural significance of such an important piece of American literature.

NP: What do you personally collect?

KK: I personally collect The Night before Christmas titles and Charles van Sandwyk books. Christmas has always been my favorite holiday of the year by far.  When I started collecting books and wanted to collect something I actually enjoyed, I knew it would have to be The Night before Christmas books! Of course, as collecting doesn’t come without having the right bibliography, Nancy Marshall’s The Night before Christmas: A Descriptive Bibliography is sitting on my shelf.

I also collect Charles van Sandwyk books, which I started after visiting the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair one year. Van Sandwyk, an author and illustrator who divides his time between Canada and Fiji, adorns his hand-sewn works with whimsical fairies and woodland scenes that are reminiscent of Arthur Rackham’s work. I fell in love with his works and enjoy collecting them, since they are so charming and magical!  He has a great publisher whom I enjoy working with.

NP: If you could live inside the pages of any rare book, which would it be?

KK: Living within five minutes of the ocean for most of my life, I have become dependent on the sensation of sand between my toes and life on the seashore. Like Santiago in The Old Man and Sea, I love feeling the warm sun beating down on my head and the salty breeze whipping the hair around my face.  I would love to live inside the pages of this book by Hemingway, watching and learning from the old fisherman who struggles to bring home the giant marlin he has caught out in the middle of the Gulf Stream.

NP: Do you plan to continue in the family business?

KK: My current plans are to attend the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and study Biology; then we’ll see what happens. As many things at Books Tell You Why can be done remotely, I am most definitely going continue working on my marketing and collecting endeavors. As part of that, I am looking forward to doing some book hunting in Scotland and the United Kingdom as well!

NP: How do you feel about the future of the book trade, being the youngest member of the ABAA?


I feel positive about the future of the book trade and do not think that anyone considering starting in the book trade or collecting should be discouraged in any way. While technology such as the Kindle or iPad will constantly be developing and improving, I think that people will always enjoy curating their collections. I think that there is definitely something alluring and satisfying about holding a rare book in your hands, and admiring how well it was made and the work and art that went into its creation.

Jemma Lewis.jpgThe art of paper marbling is not lost to Jemma Lewis, a young professional marbler based in rural Wiltshire, UK. Her small family business (her father assists) opened in April of 2009, after she spent eight months in specialized training following a seven-year apprenticeship at local bookbinders, Chivers-Period. Previously Lewis had studied textiles, but at Chivers, she said, “I became interested in antique books and the beautiful marbled papers that bookbinders used as endpapers.”

Lewis provides her wares to bookbinders, publishers, artists, interior designers, fashion designers, and furniture restorers. Her website showcases more than fifty hand-marbled papers in traditional designs, such as the one seen below. She also offers bespoke designs for specific projects and a matching service in which she reproduces historic designs for repair work.

gallery50-large.jpgHer specialty “one-off” art marbled papers, like the one seen here called “Meadow,” are amazing. They can be used for bookbinding, of course, or they can be framed as is. She has a Flickr page showing some of her other designs.

speciality-paper.jpgAll images courtesy of Jemma Lewis Marbling & Design. 

Gustave-Courbet-A-Young-Woman-Reading_width350.jpgIn case you’re not yet tired of your favorite classic novels getting twisted into genre mash-ups, the Independent reported earlier today that a British publisher is set to release erotic versions of literary classics. 

The publishing house, burdened with the name “Total-E-Bound,” is an “erotic romance” publisher in London. They will begin their new series, dubbed “Clandestine Classics” on July 30th by releasing erotic eBook versions of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Northanger Abbey,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “Jane Eyre.”

The news release follows in the wake of the phenomenal success of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” by E L James, which has become the fastest selling book of 2012 in Britain.  That book, which the British press keeps amusingly referring to as “mommy porn,” has launched a surge of interest in erotica.  Publishers are clamoring over each other to swim in its wake.

The proprietor of Total-E-Bound said to the Independent, “We’re not rewriting the classics. We’re keeping the original prose and the author’s voice. We’re not changing any of that.”

“But we want to enhance the novels by adding the ‘missing’ scenes for readers to enjoy.”

Because subtlety and implication are so unsatisfying, we can now read about the “explosive sex” between Jane and Mr. Rochester and “bondage sessions” between Heathcliff and Catherine.

In this blogger’s opinion, if you want to read erotica, then read erotica.  There is plenty of good erotica on the market.  In fact, here is an excellent list from the Guardian of good erotica.  And if you want to collect erotica, then start by reading Stephen Gertz’s excellent overview of terms in his blog post here.

But let’s leave the classics alone.

As we’ve reported here (and here), Larry McMurtry is gearing up for the book auction of the century. Next month book collectors of all stripes will descend on Archer City, Texas, for the two-day event, where festivities include 1,400 shelf-lot sales, a BBQ, a movie screening, and the sale of the McMurtry 100, a hand-selected collection of titles chosen by McMurtry to “prep the bidders.” Not all are rare or expensive, some are just favorites.

In that special group are: a signed 1933 illustrated edition of Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas; an 1810 edition of Robert Southey’s Curse of Kehama; a London edition of Thomas Wolfe’s The Web and the Rock; Rulka Langer’s 1942 book, The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt; and Elmore Leonard’s The Bounty Hunters, in dust-wrapper. Swinburne, Trollope, and James appear more than once, but it is certainly an eclectic catalogue.  

In describing how the McMurtry 100 took shape, auctioneer Michael Addison has written that McMurtry offered to select the titles to get bidders interested in the larger auction:

“Why don’t I just pick out around 100 books to sell individually just as a sampling for the bidders of the types of books we have in the shelf-lots” McMurtry says.

Nodding in agreement, I reply, “Well, you’ve been a book-scout for 50 years, so people will know that any books that you pick out are rare or unusual....”

“I’ll pick out few for you to play with” he says with a grin.

Thirty minutes later, I see a stack of books on the table of building #2, and I begin to lot them individually. After numbering them, I walk over to Booked Up building #1 where I find Mr. McMurtry and say, “Well, there are 90 books there. I’m going to call them ‘The McMurtry 90’ -- how about that?”

“You want me to find 10 more? Let me find 10 more and make it an even 100,” McMurtry says.

I reply, “Even better. A nice round number.”

It only took him a few moments to put another 10 books on the table in the other building, and the “McMurtry 100” was complete. 
Catalogue Review: Peter Harrington 84

Screen shot 2012-07-12 at 7.05.31 PM.pngPeter Harrington’s newest catalogue contains “Seventy-Five Fine Books,” some of which are the highest of high spots: a King James Bible (second folio edition) dating from 1611-1613 (£150,000), a Second Folio of Shakespeare (£385,000), and the editio princeps of the writings attributed to Homer (£175,000).

But my tastes are slightly less imposing. I’m fascinated by the first edition, book issue, of Street Life in London, “a work which pioneered the genre of photojournalism,” published in 1877-1878 (£15,000).  And, as for beauty, it would be hard to top the three-volume set of Malory’s King Arthur illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley (£45,000). The binding by Cedric Chivers is stunning; says the catalogue, “The romantic, lush watercolour illustrations on the covers and the illuminated lettering pieces on the spines perfectly complement Beardsley’s famous and masterly illustrations to this classic work.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that, as a magazine editor, I find the 116-volume run of the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1731-1814, uniformly bound in late 18th and early 19th calf with red morocco lettering pieces and marbled endpapers, awe-inspiring (£17,500). So notes the catalogue, “The periodical is inevitably rich in historical interest. Of particular note is an early printing of the American Declaration of Independence (vol. XLVI, August 1776) among much else on the American Revolution...”  

All this, and many others you would expect in a catalogue of this caliber: first editions of Hardy, Stoker, Dickens, Darwin, Wilde, Woolf, Eliot, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Beatrix Potter. If you’ve never seen the original dust jacket for Lawrence’s The Rainbow (I hadn’t), here’s your chance. If you want to buy it, it will set you back £42,500.

This catalogue is not only beautiful but educational for the book collector, novice or expert. Download it here.

See also our review of Peter Harrington 75 and an interview with bookseller Pom Harrington.
220px-Woody_Guthrie_2.jpgWoody Guthrie was many things: poet, painter, and proletariat.  And in his spare time, he even wrote a song or two.  But the New York Times revealed this week (the week of Guthrie’s 100th birthday) that Guthrie was also, unbeknowst to virtually everyone, a novelist.  He wrote one novel, “House of Earth,” which languished in a Coney Island closet for many decades.  It will be published next year by a “major New York publisher.”

Oh, and Johnny Depp is editing it.

depp.jpgYep - that Johnny Depp. (With help from author Douglas Brinkley).

The “House of Earth” of the title refers to adobes, the southwestern style of mud-brick house construction utilized by Native Americans for millenia.  Guthrie felt passionately that the sharecrop farmers of Texas, who lived in fragile wooden shacks, should build these “houses of earth” for protection from the elements.  (The elements at the time, it should be noted, included the Dust Bowl). So Guthrie followed Steinbeck’s lead and presented his ideas in novel format.

adobe.jpg “House of Earth,” finished by Guthrie in 1947, is the story of two Texan farmers who struggle against a variety of capitalist forces in their quest to build an adobe house.  Yeah, the pitch for that isn’t great, which is possibly why the novel went unpublished for so many years.  But it also includes a graphic sex scene on a hay bale, which was “ahead of its time.”

Guthrie showed the first chapter to the musicologist Alan Lomax, who said it was “quite simply the best material I’d ever seen written about that section of the country.” Depp and Brinkley have also shown the novel to Guthrie’s most famous protege, Bob Dylan, who said “surprised by the genius.” 

Next year, we’ll all have a chance to judge it for ourselves.

Or if you’re particularly antsy, you can pay a visit to Oklahoma where the typescript of the novel is held in the special collections library at the University of Tulsa.

I have long lamented the fact that as an undergraduate, I stepped foot into the special collections area of the university’s library only once and that was to interview the director about a budget issue for the student paper. When I later worked in a university library’s special collections/archives, I reached out to history professors to promote the use of primary sources among undergrads -- give them a chance to decipher that nineteenth-century handwriting and sift through photos of early campus beauty pageants. It not only enriches the learning process but some of those students are going to walk away with a newfound desire to collect or preserve or perhaps help their alma mater do so at a later date.

Richard J. Ring, head curator and librarian of the Watkinson Library at Trinity College, has taken this idea to a whole new level. Last year, he implemented creative fellowships in special collections for undergraduates. Five students receive a $1,500 stipend for one semester, in which they produce a creative project based on or inspired by materials held in the Watkinson Library. The project can be art, writing, performance, film -- virtually any medium.  

As Ring says in the promotional video they produced to promote the fellowship, “My hope is to set a trend nationally of special collections encouraging their undergraduates to use the collections in creative ways rather than academic ways.”

One of last year’s fellows composed a piece of original music based on a French manuscript from 1833 that contains songs and hand-drawn illustrations. Another fellow printed a chapbook of poetry, having carved the font out of linoleum blocks.

Take a look at the video -- you’ll be inspired by higher education (for once)!
Last weekend, news broke about a town in Texas that reclaimed an abandoned Walmart and turned it into a public library.  After moving into the new building, the library saw a 23% increase in new user registration.

What follows is a photo gallery of the Walmart-turned-library in McAllen, Texas, which also won the Interior Design Association’s 2012 Library Interior Design Competition

All of the photos were taken by Lara Swimmer and are used here with her permission:

users2.jpgScore one for the reclamation of public space from the corporate sphere! 

Perhaps all those empty Borders sitting around the country are next in line...
Independent booksellers are still reacting to the news that they can no longer accept credit card payments directly through their own websites. As of June 22, booksellers who rely on the Missouri-based ChrisLands Inc. to host their web shops were no longer able to process credit card payments online. In a decision handed down by ChrisLands’ parent company, AbeBooks, ChrisLands stores are now limited to Google Checkout and PayPal. According to the statement issued by ChrisLands, it is “reviewing what other payment processing options we may be able to include in the future.”

That isn’t happening fast enough for some dealers. Catherine Petruccione of Old Scrolls Book Shop in Stanley, NY, said, “It seems odd that they are way behind the mark in ‘trying’ to come up with an alternate solution.” She said she also worries that this is a precursor to raising the monthly web-hosting rates. “As it stood, ChrisLands was a pretty good bargain. But with the credit card option disabled, not so much of one anymore.” ChrisLands has been touted as an affordable e-commerce solution for indie booksellers.

Carla Wykoff of Bent River Books & Music in Cottonwood, AZ, said, “We are looking into alternatives--there are several--tomfolio, bibliopolis, and our personal favorite, forseeingsolutions.” She said the ChrisLands decision sparked an extensive discussion on booksellers’ listservs and that “quite a few” booksellers have switched to a new online host.

A California-based bookseller said, “In the first heat of the moment, a LOT of people (including me) threatened to close our ChrisLands sites, but of course that means either giving up our own site or spending quite a lot of money establishing an alternative.”

Some booksellers have also raised the idea that this move essentially channels most sales through the AbeBooks marketplace. Ever since AbeBooks acquired ChrisLands in 2008, booksellers have measured the “inherent conflict of interest between ABE’s genuine desire to aid independent booksellers and ABE’s corporate self-interest in channeling as many transactions as possible through the ABE site,” as one dealer put it.

When asked if the new restriction was prompted by Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance regulations, Richard Davies of AbeBooks said he was “unable to comment.” He added, “However, the change was not made to channel sales through AbeBooks. ChrisLands continues to operate as an independent subsidiary of AbeBooks.”
codexc.jpgThe Codex Calixtinus, an illuminated 12th century manuscript considered the world’s first guidebook, was recovered Tuesday by Spanish police a year after it was stolen from the library of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.  The presumed thief, Manuel Fernandez Castineiras, a disgruntled former employee of the Cathedral, housed the priceless manuscript in a garbage bag in his garage along with a variety of other stolen books from the Cathedral’s library and 1.2 million euros in cash.  Spanish authorities arrested Castineiras along with several other people identified as co-conspirators. The Codex reportededly remains in “good condition.”

codex recovered.jpgThe Codex is considered the crown jewel of the Cathedral’s library.  Its theft last year highlighted significant lapses in archive security.  Despite housing the Codex in a reinforced glass case with 24/7 security cameras trained upon it, an investigation after the theft revealed that the cameras were not turned on and the case was probably left unlocked.

The Codex, which consists of sermons, reports of miracles associated with St James, musical pieces, and practical travel advice for pilgrims, was originally compiled around 1150. 

For many centuries, the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain has been a famous destination for Catholic pilgrims from around the world.  The cathedral is the presumed burial place of St. James, one of the original Apostles, who is said to have preached Christianity to the early Celtic tribes of the Iberian peninsula.  The Cathedral was built in the 11th century and became a popular pilgrimage site almost immediately upon its completion.  To this day, thousands of religious travelers make the journey to the cathedral on foot via the Way of St James, crossing ancient European pilgrimage paths through the Pyrenees mountains.

By Jeremy Howell



In 2010 the   U. S. Mint was given an executive order to create a commemorative coin to honor the 200th anniversary of the writing of the poem that became the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The fruition of this project came last month when the Mint unveiled its 2012 Star-Spangled Banner coin set that includes a facsimile of one of Francis Scott Key’s drafts of his legendary poem.

A thirty-five-year old Key wrote the future anthem in 1814 following his legendary observation of the Battle of Baltimore. Originally calling his four-stanza poem Defence of Fort McHenry, the work was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Carr Music Store of Baltimore, Maryland, when it was published as lyrics to the John Stafford Smith composition, “The Anacreontic Song.” 

Over the remaining portion of the 19th century, the ballad grew in popularity--especially during the Civil War years when the song became synonymous with the Union. President Herbert Hoover officially declared “The Star-Spangled banner” to be the national anthem of the United States in 1931.


Housed at the Library of Congress, the draft used for the commemorative coin set is one of the earliest of four versions produced by Key between the years of 1840-1842. The only earlier draft is Key’s original 1814 manuscript, which is in possession of the Maryland Historical Society. The Mint outsourced the reproduction work to a vendor in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where a limited issue of 50,000 was printed.  Although the sets have only been available since last month they are already being well received.

The Star-Spangled Banner 2012 bicentennial set is not the first U. S. Mint commemorative to feature a reproduction of a historical document. In recent years, the Mint has begun to feature all sorts of reproduced books and documents for its sets. In 2006 the Mint recreated Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac for a silver dollar set, and in 2009, the Gettysburg address was reproduced for a Mint set. As these limited reproductions become included in mint sets more frequently, it seems that in the future what the mint produces will not only be found in coin collections but in manuscript and book collections as well.


blankpages.jpgImagine a library of books with empty pages. They formerly contained text, but over time the ink gradually faded until it disappeared altogether, leaving behind white pages like empty shells.  A library of ghosts.

While the above may have served as a setting for a Borges story, an independent publisher in Borges’s native Argentina has actually started publishing books printed with disappearing ink.  The clever marketing trick (which has already garnered them a fair bit of press States-side) is being employed by Eterna Cadencia as a launching platform for new authors.  Their reasoning is such: if you don’t read an author’s first book, the author won’t make it to a second.  So the point is to encourage - or force - the buyer to read the author’s book within two months.  After that the ink - and therefore the text - disappear from the pages.

If any of these new authors become collectable in future years, their books will make interesting additions to collections. How much do you charge for an empty codex that formerly housed a text?  It’s all rather pleasingly surreal.

Here is the promotional video from Eterna Cadencia about their disappearing ink publications:

EricCarle-small.jpgLater this month the Woods Hole Film Festival will premiere a new documentary, Eric Carle: Picture Writer, The Art of the Picture Book. The film follows the beloved children’s book author and illustrator, now 82, learning about his childhood love of art and nature and his quest to build the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. Said the film’s director, Kate Geis, “[Eric] has retired from the public life of book-touring and visiting schools, but his audience is still growing and is eager to see who Eric is in ‘real life.’ This documentary is to help satisfy that curiosity, and Eric is generous in sharing his artistic techniques, showing how he plans a picture book, all while telling deeply personal stories of his life.”

View the film’s trailer here.

Above: Eric Carle in his studio holding The Very Hungry Caterpillar book. Photo by Motoko Inoue.

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